Is Lying on Social Media Okay?

Q: Is it wrong to exaggerate on social media? Everybody else does it.

— James L., Northern Liberties


A: Hmm. I’m not sure if this is a question or an argument for the defense. Let’s unpack both.


Is exaggerating on social media wrong?

Most would agree that exaggeration and lying aren’t the same thing, but they’re not that far apart, either. Exaggeration is lying’s first cousin, which makes it suspect.

Psychologist Paul Ekman argued that a lie involves two key factors: (1) intent, and (2) lack of notification of the other person. These two factors are central to exaggeration as well. When you post only your dreamiest vacation photos on Facebook (after using filters to make them even dreamier), you’re doing that intentionally. And when you leave out the streaming-tears fight you had with your daughter, and the sweaty bout of diarrhea you got from that paella, that’s lack of notification. You’re creating a representation of your vacation that’s not the whole truth; it’s an alternative to the truth, which is, by definition — sorry, Kellyanne — a deception.

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